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365 Days of 100% Remote Work

Rich McBee
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Just over a year ago today, I wrote a note to our employees that we were planning to close our offices for at least two weeks due to COVID-19. While we didn’t know it then, two weeks would turn into 52 weeks, and still counting.

As CEO of Riverbed, and in every leadership role throughout my career, I never went a week without either working at headquarters, visiting another office, or meeting in person with customers, partners or investors. But for the last year, I have worked 100% from home, have not used a traditional office phone once, and only on a few occasions have seen a member of my leadership team in person. Our entire organization has been remote for a full year! After dozens of meeting interruptions from my dogs and 365 pots of coffee later, here are some of my lessons learned and what’s next for the future of how we work.

People always come first

When the pandemic hit, our top priority was the health and safety of employees, customers, partners, and the community. And in times of crisis, the role and importance of communications is crucial. We communicated to employees frequently and transparently in town halls, Q&A forums, BU sessions, staff meetings, one-on-ones. Things were changing fast—by the hour at times. It was important to the leadership team to stay close to our people and help them through this challenging time. We also asked our employees to stay close to our partners and customers—many who were also dealing with challenging and stressful times at home and work. When you are there for your customers, partners and employees during tough times, they remember.

We worked 100% remote and stayed very productive

At the onset of the pandemic, we did an initial test with one business unit in early March, and a week later, every single employee was remote. I believed we’d be okay, but this was new territory for our company, our systems, managers and culture. What we experienced with our team is when you have high performers, they perform and deliver regardless of location.

Fortunately, our company also offers software that helps. Client Accelerator delivers application acceleration to mobile workers by optimizing laptops and PCs; and SaaS Accelerator boosts the performance of popular SaaS applications such as Microsoft Office 365 and Salesforce by reducing network latency. These solutions, along with video and collaboration apps gave our employees an in-office experience at home and ensured our team was able to stay highly productive even in the midst of a pandemic where we were 100% remote.

Business does not stop in a pandemic

It may pause momentarily, but it keeps moving. You can take the opportunity or be paralyzed by it. Riverbed, like many others, took the challenge and navigated the business through the storm. There were good days and there were turbulent days. But we kept going, and I’m very proud of our team’s perseverance. We pivoted to meet the pressing needs of customers, leveraged video collaboration tools for sales calls, and did a lot of contingency planning.

For our customers, we placed greater focus on our work-from-anywhere solutions as well as our Unified Network Performance Management offerings. As employees started working remotely, organizations needed greater visibility across the network to ensure users were up and running and that productivity and performance were not impacted. Additionally, enterprise and government customers are also finding that as more users are remote, the security perimeter greatly expands. Leveraging network visibility can play an important role in identifying and mitigating cybersecurity threats by helping with threat hunting, incident response and forensics.

We’re capable of doing a lot more than we think

When I worked at Mitel, we were planning for a day when collaboration tools in business would become ubiquitous and digitization would drastically change business models. We were beginning to see progress, but mass market adoption looked to be five years out. And then COVID hit, and a five-year build happened in THREE months! Businesses, healthcare organizations, government agencies, manufacturers, banks, retailers all evolved their business models, while supporting one billion remote workers overnight (up from approximately 350 million).

There were many heroes. As a CEO of a technology solutions provider, I can’t say enough about our customers—and how big of a role the CIO and IT organizations played in helping businesses and governments handle this massive and immediate change, and help maximize productivity and performance in their organizations during a very tough environment. Yes, we are capable of doing a lot more than we think.

The future of work will be different and better

Post COVID, many organizations will shift toward hybrid models, with employees increasingly remote or working from anywhere (#WFA). Offices won’t fully vanish. However, increasingly HQ and regional offices will become collaboration centers, with employees coming in for critical meetings or projects, using large hoteling and collaboration spaces. This is the direction Riverbed is moving. Prior to COVID, approximately 70% of our employees worked in offices full-time. After COVID, this will drop to 20%, with most employees working remote and coming into the office a day or two a week. While the percentages may vary by industry and region, and there are still roles that are best served in person, there is a clear shift toward hybrid and remote work with 600 million people expected to work remote by 2024, up approximately 70% before the pandemic. And while traveling to meet customers and colleagues will still remain important, we will also find ourselves doing some of those meetings face to face using video.

What’s encouraging is the future of work will bring forward a number of benefits we always strived for—fewer commutes for better work/life balance and less impact on the environment; greater conveniences and experiences with new digital models; and the democratization of talent, where opportunities once out of touch due to location will be within reach for future generations. With the future of work, we are starting to unlock the true promise of technology.

In closing, this has been a very challenging year with a global pandemic that has impacted so many. But it has also taught us many lessons in business and life—what matters most, what we’re capable of, and how the future of work will be better for us and our world.

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